Hit-and-run car accidents have increased significantly since 2009. Furthermore, Texas has one of the highest numbers of hit-and-run car accidents in the country. These wrecks have some unique legal issues, which are outlined below. But these wrecks cause the same injuries, and the same amount of pain and suffering, as other kinds of collisions. Furthermore, victims have the same legal and financial rights as otherwise.
If the government fails to protect the rights of injured victims for whatever reasons, a Houston personal injury attorney stands in the gap. Additionally, criminal hit-and-run cases punish offenders. Only a civil case helps these victims obtain maximum compensation for their serious injuries. These victims need this compensation to piece their lives back together after a wreck. They also deserve it, because financial compensation is a form of justice.
The Burden of Proof in Civil Claims
Before we break down a hit-and-run car accident claim, we should take a step back and examine the different burdens of proof in criminal and civil lawsuits. This difference largely explains the high percentage of unsolved hit-and-run claims from a criminal standpoint.
The burden of proof in criminal court is beyond a reasonable doubt. Essentially, prosecutors must have overwhelming evidence to obtain convictions in criminal court. Most investigators don’t have many leads in most hit-and-run claims. So, unless a significant break happens almost immediately, like a voluntary confession, most investigators quickly give up and concentrate on other tasks.
On a related note, investigator attitude comes into play as well. Deep down, many police investigators view car crashes as civil matters.
The burden of proof in a civil case is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a Houston personal injury attorney doesn’t need overwhelming proof to establish liability for damages. But, as outlined below, a little evidence goes a long way in these cases.
Evidence in Hit-and-Run Car Accident Cases
Usually, two types of evidence are available in such claims. Attorneys, often partnering with private investigators, need both types to ensure maximum compensation for victims.
Evidence at the scene is often sparse, at best. Perhaps a witness got a brief glimpse of the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) vehicle and remembered that it was a gray SUV. Some vehicle fragments might also be lying around due to the car’s damage in the wreck.
Briefly, we should remind people that, under Texas law, all motorists must stop and render aid after an accident. It doesn’t matter which motorist was at fault.
Law enforcement investigators usually only work with evidence from the scene. However, a Houston personal injury attorney can obtain additional evidence, such as:
- Additional Witness Statements: For several reasons, many individuals do not hang around accident scenes so they can give official reports to police officers. Attorneys usually canvass the area in these situations. Someone saw something, even if it was only part of the accident.
- Camera Footage Examinations: At least one traffic, surveillance, or other camera covers every stretch of road or highway in Greater Houston. These cameras usually record digital, high-definition footage, which is easy to review and, perhaps more importantly, easy for jurors to see clearly.
- Body Shop Investigations: People who cause crashes and run away normally don’t take damaged vehicles to a local Service King. Instead, they go to below-the-radar mechanics. There’s almost no chance such individuals will open up to police officers. But they usually will speak with a personal injury attorney who represents the victim.
Here’s how the pieces fit. Assume a hit-and-run witness says a blue sedan hit a pedestrian. A few minutes after the wreck, a blue sedan passes under a traffic camera a few miles away. It’s more likely than not that these two vehicles were the same, albeit not much more likely. It’s also more likely that the vehicle’s owner was behind the wheel.
This evidence wouldn’t possibly hold up in criminal court. But it’s probably sufficient to obtain compensation for damages. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Additional punitive damages are often available in hit-and-run car accident claims. Unfortunately, many Harris County jurors dislike these tortfeasors.
Alas, sufficient evidence may be unavailable, even in a civil claim. Even though there is no one to take legal action against, these victims might still have options. Chief among these alternatives is an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim.
UM/UIM auto insurance policies are usually a good investment. The monthly premiums are generally low, and the coverage limits are high. Furthermore, as mentioned, hit-and-run wrecks are all too common in Texas.
Additionally, the Lone Star State has one of the highest percentages of uninsured drivers in the country and one of the country’s lowest auto insurance minimum requirements. In other words, many Texas drivers are either uninsured or underinsured.
UM/UIM policies usually pay claims in both these areas. Let’s return to the above blue sedan example. If the driver and/or owner can’t be brought to court, the victim could probably file a UM/UIM claim. Depending on policy specifics, the victim might only be entitled to compensation for economic losses. But that’s better than nothing.
Now, let’s change the facts a bit. Assume a Houston personal injury attorney tracks down the vehicle’s owner, using the witness statement, camera footage, and a partial license plate number. The victim’s damages were $100,000, and the owner/driver only had a $50,000 insurance policy. In most cases, the UM/UIM policy would pay the difference, even though that difference included some noneconomic losses.
There’s more good news. Since the insurance company is usually anxious to keep its paying customer happy, UM/UIM claims often settle quickly and on victim-friendly terms. Unfortunately, these same dynamics aren’t present in most other injury claims, so the settlement process usually takes additional time.
Hit-and-run wreck victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a confidential consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Houston, contact Williams Hart & Boundas Boundas LLP. In addition, lawyers can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.